Jul 15 2013

The best company vacation policy

VacationQuick note here before I jump in to remind you that I’m not your lawyer (in fact I’m not a lawyer at all). I’m not offering legal advice. You have your own lawyer for that…

I’ve seen all sorts of variations on vacation policies over the years (some harsh, some that famously pay you to take time off and everything in between). And I’ve come to a conclusion on the best PTO and vacation policy: none.

Of course I’m not suggesting that you not let employee take time off, nor am I suggesting that you not have a formal policy. But after seeing all the variations – and importantly have had to unwind companies with various PTO policies – I think the best practice is to have a formal policy of not having a formal policy. In such a plan employees don’t have a set number of days that they can take off; there’s no difference between a day you take off to go to the doctor or sit on the beach; there’s no need to track days off; there’s just an agreement between the company and employees that they’ll take time off appropriately (and after checking with their manager). Here are a few reasons why I like the “no policy” policy:

There’s no need to track days. In my experience most companies do a horrible job of tracking employees vacation usage. Having a policy of not having a policy eliminates the need for this. There’s also no difference between a sick day a personal day and a vacation day. They’re all just days out of the office.

– There’s no vacation accrual. As a result of not tracking vacation days, there’s no vacation accrual (which is inevitably wrong – see bullet 1 above). Vacation accruals in my experience turn into a perverse – and often unearned – “bonus” when employees leave a company. And they’re a huge pain to deal with if things turn south. But most importantly I think they set up the wrong incentive/expectation. Companies shouldn’t put employees in the position of choosing between the monetary value of time off and actually taking time off. Companies have vacation policies because employees who take vacations are better employees (this is at the heart of FullContact’s paid paid vacation policy that I referred to above). The value of vacation is the actual vacation, not in some artificial bank account that grows as you grow more miserable in your job.

– It’s better for employees. It’s good for people to get out of the office once in a while, for sure. But the other benefit of having a no policy policy is that you’re saying to your employees that you trust them to make good decisions. You’re empowering employees and managers to do their jobs and to manage their time off appropriately. That’s a powerful message to send to the people who work for you.

– It’s easier. For all the reasons above, not having a formal policy is simply easier. There’s no tracking, no accounting, no paperwork.

The vast majority of the companies I work with have formal vacation and PTO policies (this includes Foundry Group itself, actually). But a few don’t (as is true at many other companies I know) and I think that’s best.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.